US pressure impacts Saudi charity

A top Saudi Arabian charity has been pressured to close down many of its international offices as Washington accuses it of having terrorist links, with the director told to focus on tackling domestic poverty.

    Al-Haramain has helped deliver
     much needed supplies in Africa,
    Asia and Europe

    Al-Haramain Foundation director Sheikh Aqil al-Aqil said his organisation, which raises about $53 million a year, promoted moderation and had distanced itself from violent groups when it was established 10 years ago.
       
    "We set up this institution to preach Islam peacefully. It's very strange that we are described as terrorist," Aqil said in a television interview. "We have absolutely no inclination to violence."
       
    Al-Haramain, which has provided aid to Muslims around the world for a decade, has always mixed its relief work with a programme to promote Islam.
       
    It says it has provided assistance and food to Muslims in East Africa, the Balkans, Chechnya and several Asian countries. It has also built 1,300 mosques, sponsored 3,000 preachers, and produced 20 million religious pamphlets.
       
    Pressure to change

    Aqil said it had traditionally focused 70 percent of its spending abroad, but was switching attention to domestic needs in response to "the wish of the government" and poverty caused by rapid population growth in the oil producing kingdom.
       
    He said it was shutting offices in Bosnia, Somalia, Pakistan, Tanzania, Kosovo, Indonesia, Kenya and Ethiopia, blaming the closure on the behaviour of host governments.
       
    "These countries cooperate with America," he said. "They always accuse us, inspect us, raid us. It disturbed us." 
       

    Under US pressure?

    An adviser to Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abd Allah said in Washington last month that Al-Haramain would shut all its offices outside the kingdom and that it would be illegal for any Saudi charity to have an office abroad.
       
    But Aqil said Al-Haramain still had branches in Egypt, Yemen, Sudan, Mauritania, Nigeria and Bangladesh. "All the offices that are working have a legal position," he said.
       
    US involvement

    A US Treasury official told a congressional hearing in Washington last week Saudi Arabia had shut down 10 of the charity's offices overseas after the 12 May suicide bombings in Riyadh and that its board of directors was purged.
       
    In March last year, the US State Department listed Al-Haramain's offices in Bosnia and Somalia as "terrorist organisations".
       
    Since 11 September 2001, US pressure has stopped the institute from public fund-raising campaigns and had also made it tighten up its accounting practices.
       
    But though US involvement has affected some corporate donations, Aqil said public support for Al-Haramain had soared: "We are like heroes in the Islamic world because America is against us."


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